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Prom Perpetuates Sexist and Heteronormative Stereotypes

Prom is not only the culmination of the “classic” high school experience, but the intersection between the elitist, gender stereotyping, and heteronormative systems in our society.

From ball gowns to limousines, it is no question that the amount of effort and money that high school students put into this one night of the year is excessive. As fun as the extravagance might be, the ever-rising cost discriminates against low-income students. According to a survey by Visa, American families spend an average of $919 on prom. In our country of economic inequality, this is not an accessible cost for many families. One ticket for Berkeley High School’s (BHS) prom costs between seventy and eighty dollars, with a discounted ticket priced at $65. This is too expensive for many students, especially because buying a ticket to prom often means buying all of the transportation, outfits, and beauty appointments that are expected for the special night.

BHS, despite being anything but classic in many other ways, still upholds these problematic patterns when it comes to prom.

There is also a disparity in the amount of time, effort, and money that teenage girls are expected to put into prom preparations versus their male counterparts. High school girls are expected to buy a new dress, get their hair and makeup professionally done, and maybe even get waxed in order to prepare for the so-called biggest night of a girl’s life aside from her wedding. Although some girls enjoy getting to dress up for the special night, these extreme preparations are reflections of stereotypes of perfect, shiny, hairless girls that they’ve seen in the media.

The idea of a perfect prom comes with many expectations of traditional masculinity. A true gentleman, as defined by every high school romance movie, should plan an elaborate prom proposal, buy their date a corsage, and show up in a black tuxedo. These gestures are expected no matter the financial state of the individual, and further perpetuate the social phenomenon of hypermasculinity. If a boy does not perform these ‘manly’ acts, questions arise about who “wears the pants in the relationship.”

Another problem with high school prom is the stigma around attending without a date. Every high school movie plot is about a nerdy girl who is about to go to prom alone until luckily, she is rescued and escorted by the most popular boy in school. This social requirement dissuades students from attending prom and puts labels on students who do attend without a date. In addition to the obligation of having a date, the idea of prom as projected by society is heteronormative. Almost every prom stereotype is broken when the couple isn’t straight. The image of a boy in a tuxedo and a girl in a ball gown leaves little room for androgynous fashion.

It should not have to be social suicide to show up to prom wearing what you want, with a person who you love, or completely alone. All of these expectations embody outmoded norms of our society. BHS, despite being anything but classic in many other ways, still upholds these problematic patterns when it comes to prom. However, there is change in the margins being displayed by the Bay Area Queer Prom, which combats these stereotypes by providing a fun night and safe space for anyone to enjoy in any way they wish. It is time for us to combat the stereotypes and steep price of prom in order to make it a special night for everyone to enjoy.